- Terelle Jerricks
Legal actions create impediment to the demolition of Ports O’ Call Restaurant
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Although the clock always seems to be running out on the historic restaurant, something always seems to be coming up to postpone and delay the destruction of the waterfront icon. Ports O’ Call and the villagers haven’t gone away quietly.
Community activist and founder of Communities for a Safe Environment, Jesse Marquez, announced he had filed a complaint with the California Fish and Wildlife board and the State Water Resources Board environmental regulations protecting the water and migratory birds.
This is probably why Jayme Wilson, proprietor of Spirit Cruises and Ports O’ Call Restaurant, didn’t look so defeated on May 23 — the day after a court ruled that his restaurant had to leave Ports O’ Call Village.
“I haven’t given up yet,” said Wilson, with a fighting gleam in his eyes.
For this revival they have hired one of the most feared class action law firms in Los Angeles. Girardi & Keese, the law firm made famous by the film Erin Brokovich, recently took the case and will lead the lawsuit against the Port of Los Angeles with list of environmental violations while forcing the closing of nearly all the small shops at Ports O’ Call Village. Wilson’s Spirit Cruises and Ports O’ Call Restaurant are not parties to this lawsuit, but might be included later, if POLA is successful in closing and demolishing the iconic restaurant.
The development is significant. While the port is still trying to serve eviction papers to the restaurateur, sources close to the port, without authorization to speak on the record, say that negotiations continue as to what will become of Ports O’ Call Restaurant and how much longer it will remain open.
Development may go to the birds
Marquez, who has been an advocate for environmental issues for years, has been bending every ear that will listen, recounting the laundry list of environmental issues construction crews have come across since breaking ground to demolish all the buildings from the Ports O’ Call Village property.
Girardi & Keese and Marquez allege that the port participated in the harassment, pursuit, killing of migratory birds and destruction of rookeries during the first phase of demolition at Ports O’ Call Village. The black crowned night heron and the snowy egret, two migratory birds of concern, have been identified in the trees at Ports O’ Call Village.
Marquez alleges in his complaint that the port knew of the migratory bird rookery locations, but took no action to prevent harm to the birds before demolition started.
He also showed a photo of a dead snowy egret that had been run over after falling out of a shade tree, which he called proof that the birds indeed nest there. He said bird deaths such as these could have been prevented if the port placed a barrier around the trees to prevent visitors from parking beneath the trees and juvenile birds from wandering away. The port could have also placed signage to advise the public.
Marquez noted that at least one other person had picked up three live juvenile black crowned night herons, which had fallen out of the trees in the past month. He confirmed that the birds were taken to the International Bird Rescue Los Angeles Center in San Pedro.
The significant noise, vibration and fugitive dust created by the heavy duty excavation equipment cause extreme stress, fear, anxiety, respiratory breathing and food foraging impacts which jeopardize the life, health and well being of these migratory birds and rookeries.
Marquez requested that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife intervene and order the Port of Los Angeles to temporarily cease and desist demolition of the remaining buildings at Ports O’ Call Restaurant for a minimum of 120 days, noting this would not stop project activity north of Ports O’ Call Restaurant along the main channel, which represents the majority of new development preparation and construction.
Aside from the impacts to the migratory birds, Marquez cited the port’s own findings of asbestos present in the demolished buildings and in underground piping at the village. This may yet present another impediment to the further destruction of the rest of the village. Marquez filed complaints with the California State Water Resources Control Board alleging that nothing was done to prevent the water-contaminated soil from going into the waters of the harbor.
A forthcoming press conference promises to reveal more but as of this time has not been scheduled.
Legal actions against POC Restaurant continue
In the continuing saga of Ports O’ Call Restaurant, which lost its appeal in Long Beach Superior Court over its eviction in May, the Los Angeles County Sheriffs appeared at the restaurant’s door recently to serve that eviction. That’s when they discovered that POLA had mistakenly used the wrong address and, therefore, couldn’t be served. This matter was referred back to the court for appeal to extend the eviction 120 days to allow the restaurant to wind down operations and to satisfy its contract obligations to banquet customers. However, nothing is certain at this point. POLA seems adamant in its intentions to demolish the rest of Ports O’ Call, according to the stipulations in the contract with the Ratkovich-Jerico Development partners, who have as of yet, not found a replacement for a keystone tenant nor secured funding for the $100 million project.
While all three San Pedro neighborhood councils have passed resolutions asking the port to reconsider the phasing of the project and to adhere to its original promises to keep the existing businesses in operation during development. Those promises to the community have been overridden by the closed-door negotiations between Ratkovich, the Johnsons’ Jerico Development and the port’s legal and real estate team. Mike Galvin of POLA said everything is still on schedule for the waterfront.
Even District 15 City Councilman Joe Buscaino, at the new Harbor Boulevard opening ceremony excitedly exclaimed, “Ain’t no stopping us now!” He continues to lead the charge of development, no matter the cost to local jobs, historical preservation or community support for the iconic restaurant. Perhaps only Buscaino or Mayor Eric Garcetti could interceed at this late date to save the 150 jobs at this restaurant. Neither has publicly expressed a desire to do so.
Even as community support grows for preserving the restaurant as a historical site, the upper echelons of the port seem to be growing more isolated from the mid-level port staff and rank-and-file port police, who are reportedly not in support of the current plans. Even the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department were apologetic when serving the flawed eviction papers, according to one source at the restaurant.
It still remains to be seen exactly how the drama of destruction and the promise of “new San Pedro Waterfront” with all of Buscaino’s glowing promises, will pan out. At present, management at Ports O’ Call continues to fight in court and behind the scenes to survive, while customers continue to come in large numbers for what just might be their last supper or taco Tuesday happy hour. –James Preston Allen